Fracking Assualts the Ground from Texas to the Gulf of Mexico
January 11, 2015
The Daily Beast & RT News
After 11 quakes in the last two days -- with one registering at a 3.6 -- Irving, Texas' sudden onset tremor problem might be the fracking industry's nightmare. Meanwhile, environmentalists have filed a federal lawsuit in Washington, DC in an attempt to force the United States government into disclosing details about any hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, being done in the Gulf of Mexico.
26 Earthquakes Later,
Fracking's Smoking Gun Is in Texas
The Daily Beast
(January 7, 2015) -- After 11 quakes in the last two days -- with one registering at a 3.6 -- Irving, Texas' sudden onset tremor problem might be the fracking industry's nightmare.
There's a monster lurking under Texas, beneath the sand and oil and cowboy bones, and it's getting a little restless after a 15 million year nap. Shaking things up in the city of Irving, just slightly west of Dallas, where no less than ten earthquakes yesterday and today bring the total tremors to 26 since October in that town alone. Over 100 quakes have been registered in the North Texas region since 2008, a staggering uptick from just a single one prior that year.
The Balcones Fault Zone divides the Lone Star State in half, loosely following the route of Interstate 35 and passing under Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, and San Antonio. And it's not just a huge amount of human populations that sit on top of it. There are also thousands of fracking wells boring down in to the earth's crust, pumping millions of gallons of water down with the direct intent of breaking apart what lay beneath.
Irving itself has more than 2,000 of these sites nearby, and some of the more than 216,000 state wide "injection wells" responsible for disposing of fracking's wastewater byproduct are in close proximity.
Located thousands of feet below the ground, these wells hold millions of gallons of chemically tainted h2o, and science has proven that the pressure and liquid combination can combine to "lubricate" fault lines. And that may well be what is happening in the Barnett Shale region around, yes, Dallas and Irving.
Barnett Shale is the largest land-based gas field in Texas, with an estimated 40 trillion cubic feet of natural gas just waiting to be hammered out of the ground and into your SUV's tank. It's a nearly bottomless potential bank account for corporations with the resources to drill and grind. But, as the people of Irving are now discovering, all of this poking and prodding is not without potential consequences.
And it's not just Texas. Poland Township in Ohio had 77 earthquakes happen last March that researchers have definitively linked to fracking, in a paper published just days ago. And British Columbia has the oil addiction shakes, too.
So we know that boring down to the bedrock and pumping it full of fluid can cause earthquakes. And while it's also admittedly rare that these quakes are felt by humans, this shows signs of changing. Could the (thus far) timid trembling give way to a full-on, grand mal seizure?
The simple answer seems to be yes. They can. Studies are showing that the magnitude of the activity may be linked to how long a disposal well is in use, meaning that the more we spew wastewater into aging wells, the higher the potential for a major incident.
"With time, as an injection activity continues, so will the seismic hazard as measured by the maximum magnitude," the US Geological Survey's Art McGarr was quoted as saying by NPR.
Whatever the cause, the activity is growing more violent.
"This is the largest earthquake in Irving since the '70s. That's as far back as our catalog goes," USGS geophysicist Jessica Turner said to CBSDFW. "There hasn't been anything like this at all, so it's new."
This is not making the 228,000 residents of Irving, Texas feel very relaxed. The most recent activity had a high point of 3.6 on the Richter Scale. While minor, it's strong enough to be felt and shake objects.
And feel it they did -- the local 911 system was overloaded with calls, the school district held earthquake drills, and the Irving's mayor met with her counterpart in Dallas to discuss emergency management plans, according to the Dallas Morning News.
And "minor" can be relative.
"Was looking to see if an 18-wheeler wrecked into our building! That is what it felt like," Irving local Aletha Allie Pate Martinez told a local ABC affiliate.
As of now, there's no 100-percent definitive scientific connection between this latest swarm of earthquakes and fracking activity, but the United States Geologic Survey noted in a statement on the swarm, "Activities that have induced felt earthquakes in some geologic environments have included impoundment of water behind dams, injection of fluid into the earth's crust, extraction of fluid or gas, and removal of rock in mining or quarrying operations."
Worth noting: This cluster of quakes is taking place almost directly beneath the Exxon-Mobile world headquarters, which is located in Irving. The company's CEO, Rex Tillerson, joined a lawsuit last year to prevent a water tower used in the fracking process from being built near his 83-acre horse ranch in a swanky suburban Dallas enclave. Whether these are considered ironic or karmic quakes -- that's up to you. But for the repeatedly shaken up people of North Texas, it's not very funny anymore.
Lawsuit Seeks to Uncover Truth about
Offshore Fracking in Gulf of Mexico
(January 09, 2015) -- Environmentalists filed a federal lawsuit in Washington, DC this week in an attempt to force the United States government into disclosing details about any hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, being done in the Gulf of Mexico.
The suit, filed Thursday by attorneys representing the Center for Biological Diversity, takes aim at the Obama administration's failure to promptly respond to Freedom of Information Act requests made last year for documents pertaining to fracking operations in the gulf.
Having neglected issuing a response to the Arizona-based environmental group's October 2014 FOIA request for records identifying any wells in the gulf's Outer Continental Shelf ("OCS") region where hydraulic fracturing has been used since January 1990, both the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management were named as defendants this week in a complaint that seeks to have a District Court judge compel the agencies to provide answers.
"The public has a right to know where, when and how much fracking the federal government is allowing in the Gulf of Mexico," Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the plaintiffs, said in a statement. "Offshore fracking has been shrouded in secrecy in the Gulf, but we know this dangerous activity pollutes our water and air and poses a toxic threat to marine wildlife and fragile ocean ecosystems."
According to the suit, the Center for Biological Diversity believes the BOSEE and BOEM have authorized fracking to occur at over 100 sites in the gulf during 2013. FOIA requests for records about those alleged operations have gone unanswered for months, however, and environmentalists say it's imperative that the government explains as much about the allegations as possible on account of the long-term effects associated with the practice not being quite clear at this time.
"Fracking -- a practice that involves blasting huge amounts of water and dangerous chemicals into the earth at enormous pressure to crack rock formations beneath the ocean floor -- is inherently dangerous and has no place in fragile ocean ecosystems," the center's lawyers argue in the legal filing. "Nevertheless, BSEE and BOEM have permitted fracking in the Gulf of Mexico."
"On information and belief, BOEM and BSEE authorized fracking for at least 115 wells in the Gulf of Mexico in 2013, or about 15 percent of wells completed for production that year," the complaint continues.
"But by failing to respond to the Center's FOIA request, BSEE and BOEM are keeping the center, its members and local communities in the dark about exactly where, when and how much fracking has occurred in the Gulf, in violation of FOIA's clear legal mandates."
Monsell, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said her group is "trying to untangle the web of secrecy that surrounds offshore fracking in the Gulf of Mexico."
"We know it's happening and know the government is approving it -- the public ought to know how much and how often. Fracking doesn't belong in the ocean, and the federal government has a legal and moral obligation to reveal how widespread this inherently dangerous activity has become in our coastal waters," she said.
Yet Samantha Joye, a marine sciences professor at the University of Georgia, told the Associated Press this week that no scientific studies have actually been conducted yet to take on what effect, if any, fracking chemicals have had on the ocean.
"It is unfathomable that this process is not tightly regulated and restricted both on land and at the sea bed," she told the AP.
"There's very little public information on the practice, and to date, we just simply don't know a great deal about where and when it's taking place," Jayni Hein, a policy director at New York University's Institute for Policy Integrity, added to New Orleans' WWL-TV.
According to Bloomberg, a surge in offshore fracking since 2007 has increased the below-water drilling market to almost the size of Russia's onshore industry.
In August, the US Department of the Interior received $109,951,644 million in high bids for 81 tracts in the Gulf of Mexico covering 433,823 acres, with more than one-third of those bids coming from offshore energy companies.
"The Gulf of Mexico has been and will continue to be a cornerstone of our domestic energy portfolio, with vital energy resources that spur economic opportunities and further reduce our dependence on foreign oil," Interior Deputy Secretary Mike Connor said at the time.
"The Gulf of Mexico is one of the most productive basins in the world, and the Obama Administration's robust Five Year Program supports a balanced approach that encourages the development of the Gulf's offshore oil and gas resources, while protecting the human, marine and coastal environments and ensuring a fair return to the American people," said Connor.
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